What is the Cloud?

We hear about the cloud everywhere these days. Most of us interact with the cloud every day. But when you try and pin down exactly what it is...it can be a little elusive.

What is this 'cloud'? Where did it come from?

Some clouds in the Hove sky

The cloud is a place where we can provide services - websites and web applications - without concerning ourselves with exactly where those services are physically located.

Since the early days of the web, end-users have surfed websites and used web applications without worrying too much about exactly where in the world those sites are hosted.

But the people who managed those sites and applications generally knew exactly where the server was located - because if the server crashed, someone needed to be there to press the big ‘restart’ button!

Enter ‘Cloud computing’

Cloud computing enables us to host a site, or provide a service using a virtual server that could be anywhere.

If you host your website on a web server in the cloud, your website will behave just as if it were located on a physical Linux machine in your office server room or at the data centre in a nearby town.

But when you use the cloud to provide a service, you don't really know or care where that web server is physically located. In fact typically your server can't really be said to be physically located anywhere - it'll be a virtual machine running inside a big powerful computer somewhere (and perhaps even hopping from one 'real' computer to another as resources get used up or become made available)

By not worrying about having a single physical server to host our stuff on, we find we suddenly have loads of extra benefits like...

  • Scalability - a virtual server in the cloud can be 'made bigger' much more easily than a real server
  • Portability - a virtual server in the cloud can be easily moved around
  • Reliability - a side-product of the above - the virtual server in the cloud is not dependent on any physical hardware and can be back up and running immediately following hardware failure
  • Ease of provisioning - a new virtual server can spring into existence easily whenever one is needed

It all sounds too good to be true doesn't it? Some have argued that this new paradigm makes it hard to demarcate responsibility for data and services. If the physical location of your data isn't clearly defined, it's arguably a little harder to know who is responsible for the security of that data. Would you want to host extremely sensitive information in the cloud? Would you want your financial or medical records to be stored in the cloud?

But the cloud seems to be here to stay, and for many applications the practical advantages make it a great choice.

Codeface have extensive experience deploying clients' web applications to the cloud. Get in touch with us at our Brighton office if you need help getting your application up and running in the cloud.